What’s in a Name? {Why greeting students matters in a BIG way}

This summer, I’ve been working with a church staff on their inclusion efforts. It has been a joy to watch the staff and volunteers in action. They plan carefully, arrange the classrooms effectively, and redirect the students in positive ways. As their programs grow, I know they will be ready to include learners with diverse strengths and needs.

As I observed on my first Sunday there, I enjoyed watching the kids bound into their rooms enthusiastically. The hallways were full, and, as is often the case with Sunday mornings, the pace was quick between services. Nevertheless, the Director of Children’s Ministry remained placid. She checked in with each volunteer, helped with administrative tasks, prepared for her large group lesson, and communicated with other staff. However, none of this interfered with what was obviously the most important: Greeting the children.

I watched in amazement as she greeted every single child by name. “Good morning, Michael! It’s great to see you today, Tiara! I’m so glad you’re here, Kieran!” Every greeting–just like every child–was unique. As the students passed, she was able to tell me a bit about them. She knew their likes and dislikes, strengths and needs. She shared information about their families, her fondness for all of them evident in her warm smile. She spoke about their faith development and their progress.

This reminded me of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting. One of the basic components is a greeting. Several schools in which I work use this program, which is designed to create a strong classroom culture. One colleague reflected, “By the end of morning meeting, every single child has heard his or her name spoken aloud. That sends a powerful message that each individual matters to the group.” Clearly, this Children’s Ministry Director understands the importance of this.

In addition, she is modeling something even greater for the students in her program. In Isaiah 43, we hear the Lord say,

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine…
you are precious and honored in my sight…because I love you…

By calling her students by name, she models for them the Father’s love.

As I got ready to leave, one of the students with multiple special needs smiled at me, and said, “Goodbye, Katie!”

The Children’s Ministry Director looked surprised. As we walked away, she said, “I can’t believe she remembered  your name! That is really hard for her!”

I wasn’t all that surprised, though. I smiled at the Director, thinking,
This child learned it from her…
who learned it from Him.

He knows our names!

Summer Sampler: Great ideas for your family and your ministry!

Hi, all!
Just wanted to share some events, programs and services I’ve come across this summer…add them to your idea file and enjoy!

Summer is a great time to delve into a new book or two. When our kids were little we always joined the summer reading program at our local library. It was a fun place to visit when we needed a  break from the heat, and the kids always enjoyed the games and prizes as well as their books. Christ Community Chapel’s Hudson Campus is inviting the community into the church library for a similar program What a fabulous way to reach out and draw kids into some great reading that points them to Christ! Read more about it here.

Our friends at St. Gabriel’s Parish in Concord, OH. held a special “One Day Voyage” Vacation Bible School for the second year. This program allowed children with  disabilities who were not able to participate in the week-long program to enjoy learning about Jesus in an environment that is the “just-right-fit.” I’m a little biased about this, since it was the brainchild of my friend (and Key Ministry Board Member!) Amanda Mooney. Earlier this summer, Steve Grcevich interviewed Amanda on his blog…check it out here.

When we attended our daughter’s orientation at Calvin College, we learned about a program run by Student Academic Services. Calvin’s “Coaching Program” pairs students with trained study coaches (also students!). Together, they set goals for issues such as  time management, study skills, and test taking. What struck me about this program is that it is completely funded by a donor and the services are provided at no cost to the students. What a wonderful way to make an impact!

Finally, we attended a fabulous party at Fellowship Bible Church: The Luau. This event, led by the amazing Abby Hamilton, hosted over 60 adults with special needs. The evening included games, prizes, food, crafts and a whole lot of good fun! It was a wonderful way to serve as a family as well as meet some new friends.

Now…share your summer sampler with me! Leave a comment below to tell me about the programs and events that you’ve enjoyed…I can’t wait to learn from you!


What Can the Church Learn from the Glee Project?

It’s summertime…and that means a slightly slower pace, summer jobs, warm evenings and yes…summer television.

My daughter and I have greatly looked forward to “The Glee Project” since last summer. It’s sort of a cross between American Idol and The Apprentice; the contestants are high school and college students vying for a guest role in the upcoming season of “Glee.” The focus is largely on musicianship and teamwork, which makes it appealing. In addition, viewers get a glimpse into the personal triumphs and struggles of each contestant. The show has provided a springboard into some interesting conversations for our family. And, beyond that, the music is terrific, and it’s been fun summer viewing. (Please note: This show contains LOTS of mature subjects…Parental Guidance is strongly suggested!!)

One of the contestants this summer is Mario. According to his bio on The Glee Project Website, Mario performs with choirs, enjoys acting and dancing and even writes music.  In addition, he plays guitar, piano and drums. The bio also states that Mario “was born with Morning Glory Syndrome, which caused him to go blind at the age of nine.”

Throughout the Glee Project competition, the director, choreographer and vocal coach have made accommodations for Mario so that he could learn his part for each song and music video. The other contestants assisted him as well. However, Mario was treated as a valued member of the  team. When he did well, he was praised. When he made errors, he was corrected. And, when he needed an attitude adjustment, his castmates and directors gave him direct feedback.

Two weeks ago, Mario was eliminated by the judges. As he made his exit, he said,

When people watch this competition, I hope that they see a talented, fearless, inspirational young man that happens to be blind and NOT a blind person that they let on the Glee Project.

 I’m so much more than that.
Blindness is the last thing on my list.

My heart beat faster as I heard him say this. “What if he were talking to the Church?” I thought.  “What if we could always see abilities and possibilities first? What if disabilities were the LAST thing we noticed?”

In my line of work, I’m trained to look for needs, and to be keenly aware of areas of weakness so that I can respond with solutions. Mario reminded me that I need to be sure my “default setting” is on strength-finding…because EVERYONE has gifts, and the Church is incomplete without the gifts of ALL.

At the end of each episode of The Glee Project, the departing contestant sings a verse of Avril Lavinge’s “Keep Holding On:”

You’re not alone
Together we stand
I’ll be by your side, you know I’ll take your hand
When it gets cold
And it feels like the end
There’s no place to go
You know I won’t give in
No I won’t give in

There’s nothing you could say
Nothing you could do
There’s no other way when it comes to the truth
So keep holding on
‘Cause you know we’ll make it through, we’ll make it through…

When I first heard this song, I thought “What a pretty love song.” Now, it sings like a Psalm, hinting at heaven.

Keep holding on~